Just like those annoying colleagues who tag every email as high priority, managers are drowning in a mass of conflicting "top of the in-tray" change projects, with the result that they never get to change anything.
Research by U.S. change leadership consultancy Pivotal Resources has concluded that the reason why many American businesses are so bad at effecting change is because managers have so many "priority" projects on the go at once they can't tell any more what's important and what's not.
While change projects are given a top priority rating by most companies, almost half of the more than 500 managers polled reported that a significant number of such projects failed to meet their stated goals.
Nearly four out of 10 said they juggled as many as five change projects a year, although for some it was a more reasonable one.
Yet the top reason reported for failed change efforts was having too many "top" priority projects and an inability to co-ordinate these across their organisation.
"A business' ability to get the most value out of change investments – whether they're reorganisations, new ventures, process improvements, IT systems etc – is absolutely critical to staying ahead in today's competitive, global environment," pointed out Pete Pande, president and founder of Pivotal Resources.
"This study strongly indicates that managers and leaders really don't have a clear idea of what their investments are or how they're paying off," he added.
"We're surprised at the low numbers of change initiatives that many of the respondents say are undertaken each year, especially when they also say that they often have too many high-priority initiatives than they can handle," Pande continued.
"This suggests that there is not enough clear ownership or scrutiny of the 'change portfolio' – or the process for deciding what are the most important projects to work on," he added.
Intriguingly, when asked about the success of these projects, C-level executives were twice as likely to judge change projects as "almost always" successful as non-C-level managers, the research found.
"We can't say for sure why senior executives are so much more positive about the success of change efforts than their subordinates. Perhaps they're better informed because they have a bigger picture view," said Pande.
"Or they may instead be more out of touch with what's really going on. I tend to suspect it's the latter, based on my experience, as well as how the two groups assess their specific areas of weakness," he added.
The study also found that, on average, companies spent between six to 12 months on each initiative.
Nearly three quarters of change projects were reportedly completed in under a year, with a third of those polled saying they "often" had more "high priority" change or improvement projects on the go than they could reasonably handle.
Worryingly, a tenth said this situation was standard practice in their organisation.
More than a third believed too many independent or disconnected initiatives were launched in different areas of the organisation.
And fewer than a fifth thought change "always succeeded" in their organisation.